Sister Margaret Rose Smyth, who died Monday at the age of 83, was hailed at her funeral Thursday as the embodiment of a nun who worked for social justice, giving hope to the many people she helped in South America, New York City and across the North Fork.
St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Riverhead was packed with a standing-room only crowd. The pews were filled by 9:30 a.m. for her wake, and by the time the mass began at 11 a.m., people were standing in the back and along the sides of the church.
Part of both the wake and Mass were in Spanish — the language she spoke fluently as she managed her North Fork Spanish Apostolate office in Riverhead. Spanish was spoken to both honor Sister Margaret, and also to connect with the dozens of Spanish-speakers who attended the wake and funeral. Many walked up her casket by the altar, bowed their heads and prayed.
Several speakers described her as the daughter of Irish immigrants who by the age of 15 had been called to be a nun. For 65 years she served with the Sisters of St. Dominic in Amityville. One speaker said Sister Margaret lived by the creed “if you judge people, you don’t have time to love.”
The main speaker for the Mass was Father Larry Duncklee, who went back and forth in Spanish and English as he recounted first meeting Sister Margaret. “Joy and hope was her calling,” he said, paraphrasing the Gospel of St. James that “faith without works is dead.”
“We’re in the season of hope,” he said. “Sister Margaret proclaimed hope. She listened to people, to their stories. She remembered people’s names, their kids’ names. Faith needs good works, good workers, which makes love a reality.
“We hope someone will now step up and help with the North Fork Spanish Apostolate,” he said. “We hope Margaret’s work will be taken up by other people. Pray we find people to do this.”